A goal up against Colombia in the quarter-finals of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 on 13 August, with fewer than ten minutes remaining, Brazil appeared to have matters under control. A clinching second strike is always welcome in such situations though, and it was then that A Seleção captain Neymar spotted Luan free in the centre of the field. The versatile young attacker brought the ball under control, strode forward and sent a shot arrowing, full of top and side-spin, beyond Los Cafeteros’ keeper Cristian Bonilla and into the net to make it 2-0.
So how intentional was the dazzling ‘effect’ put on that finish? “I meant to put it there,” confirmed the Gremio starlet to FIFA.com. “Once I’d controlled it I saw the keeper was moving to the opposite corner. So, halfway through the shot, I tried to twist my foot as much as I could, and with God's help it worked. The effect came off and I managed to fool him.”
A clear highlight of Luan’s campaign for A Verde e Amarelo *at this Olympics, the quality of the goal underlined to Brazil fans that their hopes for a first gold medal in this competition do not solely rest on a celebrated attacking trio. In truth, that trio is now a quartet, with the 23-year-old, who hails from Sao Paulo state, demanding top billing alongside Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel 'Gabigol'* Barbosa.
The gifted Luan began this Olympic Football Tournament on the bench, mainly looking on as the team struggled in vain to break down the massed defensive ranks of first South Africa then Iraq. Coincidentally or not, since his installation in the starting XI, initially as a withdrawn centre-forward, the goals have begun to flow freely – A Canarinho netting six goals in two games against Denmark and Colombia.
Until I was 18, I wasn’t focused on chasing after the dream I’d had since I was a kid.
Despite the depth of his talent, Luan’s involvement in Brazil’s high-stakes bid for a first Olympic football gold, on home soil, can be considered a surprise. Just five years ago, Luan was much more inclined to play futsal in his home town of Sao Jose do Rio Preto, having endured something of an on-off relationship with the 11-a-side discipline.
That all changed when the player accepted a last-minute invitation from local club America to take part in the youth version of the Copa Sao Paulo, his subsequent dazzling displays catching the eye of Gremio. “Until I was 18, I wasn’t focused on chasing after the dream I’d had since I was a kid,” he explained. “That was when a switch flicked in my head, that I wanted to go for it, and everything happened really fast. I wasn’t at America for very long before I got the move to Gremio. I knew it was the chance of a lifetime and I seized it.”
In his third season in the Brazilian top flight, Luan has taken time out from club action to join up with the Olympic squad. A well-known name in football in the south of Brazil, he now has the opportunity to become a familiar face to fans across the vast nation. “An Olympic Games, particularly on home soil, means the whole of Brazil can follow us. It’s a chance to make a name for myself, to stand out a bit more and show what I can do,” added the ambitious youngster.
That goal is easier to achieve when in good company, and the gifted attacker has clicked rapidly with Neymar and Co. The quartet’s lightning one-twos and combination play dizzied the Danish and Colombian defences to help put Brazil’s two-game opening drought behind them. With hindsight, Luan is sure that dry spell was merely a matter of the overwhelming anxiety plaguing a young squad with a huge burden of expectation on their shoulders. “When we got together, I could see that we had a close-knit group and great players. That makes everything more enjoyable and I’m hoping to take even fuller advantage of that good company and do my bit to help us win the [gold] medal.”
So, defenders and goalkeepers beware: should you see Luan roaming forward, the ball at his feet, however far he is from goal, be ready to expect the unexpected. Just ask Cristian Bonilla.